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April days full of fun for this edition of M's


April days full of fun for this edition of M's
It was another harmonious day in the Mariners' clubhouse. Ken Griffey Jr. discussed the joy of Jackie Robinson Day. Eight feet away, Mike Sweeney joked with Ichiro about his return to the field. Pitcher Jarrod Washburn sat with catcher Kenji Johjima for a pregame strategy session, seemingly nullifying any notion of a rift lingering from last season.

If the Mariners stay this jolly, they will turn into a Saturday morning cartoon.

Happiness in team sports can be as fluid as Don Wakamatsu's lineup, however. During the 'round-the-world trip that is a Baseball season, it's safe to expect some discontent. So as we monitor the Mariners' newfound camaraderie, perhaps the most accurate measure of it will come from watching whether the players swallow their unhappiness during disadvantageous times rather than tracking how much bliss they display.

Such observation can begin now that Ichiro is back. His return from a bleeding ulcer means Wakamatsu, the rookie manager, must skillfully handle the trickle-down effect it will have on the rest of his ever-changing lineup.

Now, he must deal with Griffey's desire to play more in the outfield. Now, he must think more about how to get Mike Sweeney his at-bats. Now, he must make decisions that could slice into the playing time of Endy Chavez, Russell Branyan and maybe even Franklin Gutierrez from time to time.

It's a nice problem to have, mind you, especially since Wakamatsu enjoys juggling. He used his eighth different lineup in nine games Wednesday night, and if you thought he'd been mixing it up to compensate for not having Ichiro, Wakamatsu intimated that he plans to continue the shuffle.

"Early in the season, we want to make sure guys play," Wakamatsu said. "Having Ichiro back in right field solidifies that spot. But we've talked about giving some guys some days off and using all our players. We will try to keep doing that."

If Wakamatsu were a crabby veteran manager, his approach would be a problem. But because he's such a good communicator, he might be able to manage the players' expectations enough to make his plan work.

You don't hear many complaints right now, that's for sure. The Mariners are winning and garnering praise for the way they attack the game. The veterans are being lauded for changing the clubhouse's culture. The parts are so committed to the whole that a little sacrifice seems worth it.

But what happens when the Mariners lose five of six games and players voice concern that they're not getting into a rhythm because of lineup shuffling?

"We're going to do what we have to for the club first, and guys have bought into that," Wakamatsu said. "The season is so long. Things work themselves out. We'll take it day by day."

In the end, Griffey will have to accept that the outfield trio of Ichiro, Gutierrez and Chavez gives the Mariners the best chance to win defensively. Sweeney, aka Captain Character, will have to keep being himself, even though his knees appear capable of withstanding more strain. And Ronny Cedeno, perhaps the most versatile player on the team, will have to accept another season of limited playing time.

Chavez, the starting left fielder, can eliminate any potential controversy by continuing his incredible play. He had another multi-hit game Wednesday, including a rare homer. His defense has never been the problem. It's always been his bat that's kept him from playing every day.

He won't hit .400 all season, but if he hits .280 and significantly improves upon his career .682 on-base plus slugging percentage, his starting spot will never be in question and Griffey will be a full-time designated hitter. If Chavez slumps, then Griffey has a better case for playing left field.

There are many complicated twists to consider. But fortunately, the Mariners know the deal.

"We're not in competition with each other," Chavez said. "We're all team players. We will accept what's best."

Well, then, let's ride out the fun for as long as it can last. And let's hope, when the inevitable struggles arrive and doubt becomes a factor, the Mariners remember these jolly April days and refrain from turning disgruntled.

Keep making this hokey Saturday morning cartoon. We've seen the R-rated drama and hated it.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 17, 2009

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